The difference between Physical and Chemical Sunscreens

Physical sunscreens are often referred to as physical blockers. They contain active mineral ingredients, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which work by sitting on top of the skin to deflect and scatter damaging UV rays away from the skin.


Pros of physical sunscreen:

  • Offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays and is naturally broad spectrum.
  • Protects from the sun as soon as it’s applied, no wait needed.
  • Lasts longer when in direct UV light (but NOT when doing physical activities that cause the skin to get wet or sweat).
  • Less likely to cause a stinging irritation on the skin, making it better for sensitive skin.
  • Better for those with heat-activated skin (like those with rosacea and redness) since it deflects the heat and energy given off by the sun away from the skin.
  • Less likely to be pore-clogging, making it ideal for blemish-prone skin types.
  • Longer shelf life.


Cons of physical sunscreen:

  • Can rub off, sweat off and rinse off easily, meaning more frequent re-application when outdoors is needed.
  • May leave a white-ish cast on the skin, making some formulas incompatible for medium to dark skin tones.
  • May be too chalky and opaque for daily use under makeup.
  • Can create an occlusive film, which results in increased perspiration during physical activities and, therefore, causes it to wear off more quickly.
  • Can be thicker, which will require more effort to rub in.
  • Can be less protective if not applied generously and accurately since UV light can get between the sunscreen molecules and get into the skin.


Chemical sunscreens are often referred to as chemical or organic absorbers. They contain organic (carbon-based) compounds, such as oxybenzone or oxtinoxate, which create a chemical reaction and work by changing UV rays into heat, then releasing that heat from the skin.


Pros of chemical sunscreen:

  • Tends to be thinner and, therefore, spreads more easily on the skin, making it more wearable for daily use.
  • Less is needed to protect the skin because there is no risk of no spaces between the sunscreen molecules after application.
  • Formula is easier to add additional treatment ingredients, such as peptides and enzymes, which offer other skin benefits.


Cons of chemical sunscreen:

  • Can possibly cause an increase in existing brown spots and discoloration due to a higher internal skin temperature. Pigmentation is so reactive and easily stimulated from heat.
  • Requires about 20 minutes after application before it begins to work.
  • Increased chance of irritation and stinging (especially for those who have dry skin with a damaged moisture barrier) due to the multiple ingredients combined in order to achieve broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection. Also stinging if it drips into the eyes from sweat.
  • The higher the SPF (such as formulas of SPF 50 or greater), the higher the risk of irritation for sensitive skin types.
  • The protection it offers gets used up more quickly when in direct UV light, so reapplication must be more frequent.
  • Increased chance of redness for rosacea-prone skin types because it changes UV rays into heat which can exacerbate flushing.
  • May clog the pores for oily skin types.


Therefore it can be debatable as to which sunscreen will be best for your skin; a patch test can be done prior to using a sunscreen.


One last thing, with any sunscreen, it’s really important to use an antioxidant serum underneath it although some products on the market now already include it. We recommend using a product containing either Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid) or Vitamin E because it helps prevent oxidative stress that leads to visible aging and can increase the effectiveness of sunscreen by up to four times due to the combination. Results may vary per individual.


Our best pick for a proper sunscreen will either be one from the Heliocare range or Lamelle Helase SPF 50 :)

Speak to your friendly skin care specialist or contact us to get your sun protection on!

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